A ROYAL Navy ‘bagger’ helicopter was seen circling over Dorset on Friday as it carried out a routine test flight.

The Navy Merlin Mk2 helicopter was spotted in the skies above the county this morning as it headed from its base near Salisbury towards the coast.

The chopper, which is fitted with a ‘distinctive’ radar dome, is part of a Navy programme known as Crowsnest that is adding this equipment to a small number of aircraft.

The programme adds the airborne surveillance and control (ASaC) radar and mission system to the Merlin maritime patrol helicopters.

Bournemouth Echo: Royal Navy Merlin Mk2 helicopter in flight, with distinctive radar dome.

A Royal Navy spokesperson said: “This aircraft is assigned to the test and trials unit at MOD Boscombe Down near Salisbury.

“These aircraft are known as ‘baggers’ for their distinctive radar dome. A number of ASaC aircraft have already been converted and have joined the frontline unit 820 Naval Air Squadron based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall.

“820 Naval Air Squadron is dedicated to protecting the UK’s aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. With a crew of three, ASaC helicopters fly up to a mile directly above the carrier strike group and can look far ‘over the horizon’ for possible threats.”